Monday, February 13, 2012


IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE. IT'S AN EYESORE: Although it's probably been more than a decade, we remember a certain drive though San Francisco quite clearly.

Having lived there in the early 70's, we just assumed that we could find the old freeway entrance. But while cruising from "the Haight" to "downtown" we found ourselves suddenly coming around the block for the third time looking for the ramp that led to one of the elevated freeways that made much of the city center a dark, gloomy, drug and crime-filled morass.

"They did what? They tore it down? They whole thing?" "Yes," we were told, "there are no more raised thoroughfares north of Market Street."

As the years went by we noted the trend continuing across the country with cities not only refusing to build new raised monstrosities but actually tearing the old ones down.

So it was no surprise that when Honolulu's traditional lack of planning combined with its time-honored corrupt procurement process and long-standing adherence to urban design concepts 40 years out of date combined to yield yet another plan for the long-delayed, on-again-off-again mass transit project, they decided it was going to be constructed a hundred feet in the air.

Admittedly we haven't been to Honolulu in a decade or more and plan on avoiding it like the proverbial plague for the foreseeable future. Once one sets foot outside of the tourist mecca of Waikiki- and not very far- the sidewalks crack and crumble and the streets are not just filthy but filled with potholes large enough to rent for $1700 a month.

Why would we go? Just the price of a last minute plane ticket approaches that of a direct flight from Kaua`i to SF- a city of similar population where the areas known as "slums" are aesthetically more pleasing than most of "town" on O`ahu.

In their infinite wisdom, the city fathers decided on a "plan," not to spruce it up and start carefully planning- complete with pubic input (gasp!)- the city's future development but rather, to plunge most of it into darkness so no one can see how truly decrepit it actually is.

And that's just the physical limitations. The political ones are worse.

Not only was the first fully-funded, ready-to-go attempt at simply building a system to move people to and from work every day aborted a couple of decades back after a particularly entertaining dance-of-the-headless-chickens but, according to a poll reported today, support for the current similarly ready-to-commence project is dropping faster than the price of stock in the companies that lost the contract to construct it.

According to the poll in the pay-wall protected Honolulu Star Advertiser, support for the project has dropped from 49% last May to 43% now.

And as if that wasn’t enough of a sign that the denizens of Honolulu are fed up with the way the project has evolved- the way its back-room planning and pay-to-play system put into place the most expensive, ugliest system possible, not to mention one that bucks a 20 year trend in urban design- former Governor and anti-rail candidate Ben Cayetano is leading the race for mayor over the two pro-rail candidates by a wide margin.

For those that forgot or weren't around, by the time he left office, Cayetano had burned so many bridges and offended so many supporters, he's been left for politically dead ever since.

Yet current Mayor Peter Carlisle, like the rest of the tone-deaf, steel-on-steel, elevated rail supporters, still clings to the notion that the only problem is that "we haven't done as good a job as we should have in showing people exactly what all the accurate information is (on rail)."

Ah, the last refuge of a delusional pol- the notion that "if people were just 'educated' they would see it from my warped, power-hungry vantage point."

We probably have no right to even write this column today- we don't live on O`ahu and would rather be homeless on any neighbor island than live in a Waikiki luxury high rise.
Honolulu citizens seem to be saying "we want mass transit, perhaps even rail- we just don't want THIS mass transit and THIS rail." Kaua`i people have similarly spoken this way about a certain bike path, a certain electricity co-op and a dozen other projects that have been forced down our throats by smug, paternalistic officials.

The "City and County" seems to have a penchant for hiring those who graduated at the bottom of their class from the Rube Goldberg School of Urban Design. Then, when the worst of them are forced to leave in disgrace, they seem to find their way into the equally befuddled, clueless and crony-filled Kaua`i County government.

All we can say is thanks but no thanks. We've got our hands full now.

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